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Impressions of East Makedonia and Thrace, Greece

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Only well into the 20th century the Northern regions of Makedonia and Thrace (Thraki) were added to Greece's territory after a long period of complex and chaotic wars, first the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913, then the Great War which destroyed all Europe from 1914 and 1918, and finally the Greek-Turkish war which lasted from 1919 to 1922. Each time, borders were moved up and down, involving Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. The scars of the human dramas behind it all are still visible, in the villages, some abandoned and some newly established after people had to move out or in because they belonged to this or that ethnicity, in the ruins of castles and fortresses which were defended or conquered. Hardly anywhere else one comes to grip with the complexity of the Balkans more directly than in these Northern Greek regions. Ask for instance the people of Kavala, who can all tell you family stories about being tossed around within a couple of decades from the Ottomans to the Bulgarians to, finally, Greece.

In this report, we concentrate on the Eastern part of Makedonia, with cities like Kavala and Drama, and with the magnificent site of Philippoi, where the Apostle Paul stayed and preached Christianity. We also concentrate on adjacent Thrace (Thraki), near the border with Turkey, where the attractive cities of Komotini and Xanthi illustrate that the community of ethnic Turks which avoided deportation imposed by the population exchange at the end of the 1919-1922 Greek-Turkish war, got an incomparably better chance to grow and maintain themselves in their Greek land of birth than their counterpart of Greeks on the Turkish side of the border, in the Istanbul area reduced by now to a minimal fraction.

Nature in this part of Greece speaks less of the Mediterranean than of the continental Balkans; there are more loaf forests than pine forests and even on the island of Samothraki, the natural pools and little waterfalls of the inland are more attractive than the rugged coastline. And yet, Greece would not be Greece, if there were also not somewhere an idyllic peninsula of Chalkidiki and an island like Thassos where the blue waters of the Aegean Sea gently wash up onto sandy and sunny beaches.

Before visiting the place of your choice:

The temple of Ammon Zeus is the main archaeological site of Kassandra, the Westernmost 'finger' peninsula of Chalkidiki, on the beach of the Kallithea village. Already in the 8th century BC there was a Dionysos and Nymphs cult here in a sanctuary in front of a cave. At the end of the 4th century BC, under the rule of the Makedonian Kings, another sanctuary was erected here, dedicated to the Egyptian god of gods Ammon, equivalent in the Hellenic pantheon to Zeus. Hence the combined sanctuary name, reflecting the religious merger in Hellenistic times of own Greek gods with 'imported' deities from Egypt and Kyrenia on the nowadays Libyan coast. The sanctuary flourished well into the 2nd century AD, when baths were installed, in use until the 5th century AD.

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